> Opera and Oratorio
Evans, Coote; Groves, Imbrailo, Kempster, Sherratt; Hallé Choir, Hallé Youth Choir, Hallé Orchestra, Elder. Text included.
Hallé HLD 7534 (2)
The relative obscurity of Elgar's Apostles in America is a bit difficult to understand. Several oratorios more difficult to perform, such as Walton's Belshazzar's Feast and Tippett's Child of Our Time have a more solid footing here. At any rate, The Apostles is a cozy, strangely fulfilling engagement for anyone who's in the mood. It's the sort of wallow in which a children's chorus, a semi-chorus and an enormous adult chorus send out waves of hymn-like textures, a place where the word "unconstrained" is set to four notes of music. It's like the old cardigan sweater, slightly too big for you and sporting a few discreet holes, that you still enjoy putting on, even though your sister gave you a snazzier new model for Christmas.
Mark Elder conducts with a sure sense of the structure and the style. Elgar set something of a trap with his too-numerous indications of slight changes of tempo that ought to be obvious. Elder finds the musical sense behind them and never seems didactic. When he uses string portamento, the effect is so warming that we can only wish he did it more often. The textures are string-based, with the point of the writing seemingly to make the orchestra sound as organ-like as possible. This is well captured by the recording engineers at the Hallé Orchestra's own label. (With refreshing candor, the liner notes tell us that some rehearsal material has been edited into this live performance from 2012.) The Hallé Chorus is within this same spirit of blanketing sonorities; the sopranos and altos are hardly distinguishable from each other. The enormous numbers of singers allow for a truly plush sound in choral pianissimos.
There is something lovely and old-school about the singing of Rebecca Evans as Mary, a classical technique aligned with true legato. Alice Coote, as Mary Magdalene, starts out with the virtues of a real center to the tone in her lower register and beautiful English diction; by the time she tells us of the Ascension, we can just say that this is singing that has everything. In Part II, the oratorio nearly turns into a large cantata for Judas. There is room for more variety of tone than Brindley Sherratt brings to it, but he is certainly a reliable singer. Jacques Imbrailo's Jesus is a warm presence, yet a humble one, so reassuring from the start that he hardly seems affected by his resurrection. If, like me, you are a person with more than one tea cozy, you might want to investigate this recording.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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